The effects of fear and anger facial expressions on approach- and avoidance-related behaviors

Emotion. 2005 Mar;5(1):119-24. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.5.1.119.


The facial expressions of fear and anger are universal social signals in humans. Both expressions have been frequently presumed to signify threat to perceivers and therefore are often used in studies investigating responses to threatening stimuli. Here the authors show that the anger expression facilitates avoidance-related behavior in participants, which supports the notion of this expression being a threatening stimulus. The fear expression, on the other hand, facilitates approach behaviors in perceivers. This contradicts the notion of the fear expression as predominantly threatening or aversive and suggests it may represent an affiliative stimulus. Although the fear expression may signal that a threat is present in the environment, the effect of the expression on conspecifics may be in part to elicit approach.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anger*
  • Avoidance Learning*
  • Facial Expression*
  • Fear*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Perception*